While every election year is important, the 2020 election will go down in history as monumental for a number of reasons.
This year, the United States saw the highest number of people come out to vote and as a result, Joe Biden received over 74 million votes. This means that he broke Barak Obama’s record for most votes cast during a Presidential Election. And while many across the country were outraged at the fact that over 70 million people still voted for Donald Trump’s reelection, there were still moments of happiness across the country. Some of those things included:
California returning the right to vote to felons on parole
Oregon decriminalizing drug possession of certain hard drugs (hopefully this will help incarceration rates)
Colorado approving of a new paid family leave program (hopefully allowing for more leeway with time off)
A number of transgender candidates were elected to office
These are just a few of the positive outcomes from the current election, but let us focus on, arguably, one of the biggest wins – the fact that California returned the right to vote to previously incarcerated individuals who are out on parole.
Let us quickly go back in time a little. In the 1860s and 70s, many states had adopted a voting ban that blocked felons from voting. This was one way that the US was able to continue to racially discriminate and place minorities in a lower social class than whites. By banning felons from voting, it was a small step that kept the government in power and was yet another way for them to control society. Thankfully, over the years, many states have gone back on this and have begun allowing previously incarcerated individuals to vote, but not all states are there just yet.
Only 2 states + DC never took the right to vote away from incarcerated individuals.
16 states took the right to vote away while incarcerated but returned it upon release.
21 states took the right to vote away while incarcerated and for a period of time after release (while on parole).
11 states took the right to vote forever (based on the crime committed), while incarcerated and on parole, or required additional action before their voting rights are restored.*
With the implementation of these voting bans, also known as disenfranchisement, along with the Black Codes, the US Government was able to keep control over people of color following the Civil War. Many who are not personally affected by the prison system do not fully grasp the extent to which the government maintains control over its citizens. By not allowing previously incarcerated individuals to vote, what should be a basic right in a democracy, the government tightens its grip on controlling minority groups in the US.
Mass incarceration has been an issue in the United States for years and it should not be a surprise to anyone that the majority of individuals who are incarcerated are people of color. This occurred when Nixon created the War on Drugs and when the following presidents kept the trend going of incarcerating those in possession of drugs. It can be argued that the War on Drugs was another step in the government’s plan to keep people of color in a lower social class than whites.
By incarcerating hundreds of thousands of people of color and simultaneously taking away their right to vote, the US Government created a system in which they controlled who was allowed to vote and who was not. Previously incarcerated individuals are still citizens of the US and they should always be given the chance to speak their voice and vote. California returning the right to vote to felons in 2020 is just one step in the right direction.
*Here is a link to find some information on incarcerated individual’s right to vote: https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/felon-voting-rights.aspx